Matilde Rodrigues – On The Threshold of Her Dream

Matilde Rodrigues as Myrtha, Giselle Act II, Conservatório Internacional de Ballet e Dança Annarella Roura Sanchez Summer Gala, Leiria. Photo Tomé Gonçalves

Just a few days before starting her first engagement as a professional dancer, 18-year-old Matilde Rodrigues speaks to Ballet Position 

Portugal hasn’t much of a tradition in classical ballet.  It’s true that more and more Portuguese dancers are are good enough to join important foreign companies; but, like Royal Ballet Principal Marcelino Sambé and former Wayne McGregor company dancer Catarina Carvalho, to mention but two, all finished their training in prestigious foreign schools.

So, when you hear that a young Portuguese dancer has graduated straight from a Portuguese ballet school into a major company, such as Birmingham Royal Ballet (BRB), you sit up and take notice.

Matilde Rodrigues. Photo Nikki Roberts

Matilde Rodrigues was invited to join BRB as an Artist even before her 18th birthday in the Spring.  She told Ballet Position how the job offer had come about:

“After the Youth America Grand Prix Finals in Barcelona in December [2019], the BRB representative there invited me to come to Birmingham for an audition.  But then there was a problem and I couldn’t audition in person, so my director assembled a demonstration video, and a couple of months later BRB formally invited me to join.”

We spoke in the provisional Birmingham flat, where, in the company of her mother and aunt, she was fulfilling the UK’s requisite Covid quarantine, before starting with BRB on 1st September.

A mere wisp of a girl, Matilde is tallish (1,68 m), lithe, with dark eyes and a gentle smile, which doesn’t quite hide an iron will and an unwavering determination to succeed.

Clearly a perfectionist in all she does, while in quarantine she’s been doing class by herself every morning.  A keen cook, she’s taught herself nutrition, and devised her own well balanced diet, which sounds perfect for the extreme physical demands of life as a professional ballet dancer.

Matilde Rodrigues – The Beginning

Matilde started dancing, or rather prancing around, in a children’s after-school activity club in her native Leiria, a small town just north of the Portuguese capital of Lisbon.  She was six-years-old.  Her fateful first contact with ballet, though, came a year or so later.

“I went to watch the ballet class of a friend and loved it, so I immediately asked my grandmother to sign me up.”

At this point it’s worth mentioning Matilde’s grandmother is the “arty” member of the family, the one who may have spotted Matilde’s talent before anybody else.  Matilde’s mother, a committed Scout leader of 20+ years’ standing, told me she thought her playful, vivacious child might perhaps follow in her footsteps.

Anyway, granny wasn’t the only person to spot Matilde’s talent:

“The school director liked me and felt I had the conditions to go far in ballet.”

The school director is Annarella Roura Sanchez, a Cuban former dancer and teacher, who just over 20 years ago set up an Academy and International Conservatoire in unlikely Leiria  (pop 127,000).  Since then, her Conservatório Internacional de Ballet e Dança has been attracting students from all over, and churning out cohorts of remarkably assured young dancers.

She teaches the Cuban technique, of which the current BRB Artistic Director, the superstar Cuban dancer Carlos Acosta, was a famous exponent.

“It’s a very strong virtuoso technique, relying very much on turning, jumps, strength; but there’s also a lightness to it,” Matilde explains.

“Some people think it’s a very masculine technique, but that’s not true. Last year a Cuban teacher guested at our summer course, and he kept reminding us that it was all about dancing.  Dancers have to express themselves, technique is not everything.”

Matilde herself is an expressive dancer, judging by her performance as Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis, in Act II of Giselle, staged by Maina Gielgud  for Conservatoire Annarella Roura Sanchez’s Summer Gala in Leiria.

Matilde Rodrigues Dances Myrtha

Myrtha is an implacable spirit, determined to punish with death any man who ventures into her forest realm during the night.  An arduous, demanding role, its parameters are clearly set; so, I wondered how much leeway Matilde had been given to put something of herself into her performance.

“Maina is an amazing coach; even as she’s coaching, simply marking, she seems to be living the action, and that helped me a lot to get into the character.  She gave me a lot of freedom of interpretation. 

Matilde Rodrigues as Myrtha in Giselle Act II, Conservatório International de Ballet e Dança Annarella Roura Sanchez Summer Gala. Photo: Tomé Gonçalves

“She’d say, for example, ‘at this point you could look that way,’  but always urging me to put something of myself into the character, because that’s what gives each dancer her individuality.  Each has to bring a little of her own heart into her performance.”

Sanchez accustoms her students to perform from a very early age, regularly taking them to national and international competitions; and this is where we find the second chapter of Matilde’s story – the time when her interest in dance grew to become a passion.

“I think it came about when I went to my first competition outside Leiria, when I was about 10-years-old.  It was a national event in the Algarve, but it all felt very different and I think that’s when I first felt really committed; and with each new competition I got to learn more about the world of ballet.”

Matilde Rodrigues is about to immerse herself in the world of professional ballet, as an Artist with BRB, something, which – of course! – produces mixed feelings.  I asked her to tell me about her fears and expectations.

“It’s a great change in my life: coming to a different country, leaving behind all my colleagues, who have supported me so much, my parents… also training will be so different, I shall be going from a school to a company, doing company class for the first time (…) That will be a great challenge.

“At the same time, though, I am excited about those same things, about having a new life, new colleagues, sharing a stage with great dancers; and working under a Director who was a great star and is Cuban!”

Matilda Rodrigues – From Star Student To Corps de Ballet

At the Conservatoire Matilde was a star student, used to solo roles and adulation; now she enters a company at the lowest ranks of the corps de ballet. Will that be much of a shock?

“No! I’ve danced corps roles from the very beginning and I actually like them (…) I’m aware I have a lot to learn, and to be able to watch the company soloists is going to be great, because you learn a lot simply by watching.”

Matilde Rodrigues finds herself on the threshold of the career of her dreams, the result of talent, hard work and perseverance.  What advice would she give to aspiring young dancers?

“Never give up.  When you really, really want something, then the will to achieve that has to be stronger than the temptation to give up.

“You need to be able to overcome negative feedback, turn it into renewed strength and keep going.”

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by Teresa Guerreiro

The full performance of Giselle, Act II by students of Conservatório Internacional de Ballet e Dança Annarella Roura Sanchez can be seen on YouTube

 

Ruth Brill – Leap Into The Unknown?

Ruth Brill in rehearsal, photo by Dasa Wharton

Ballet Position meets Ruth Brill as she prepares to swap her pointe shoes for life as a full time choreographer

Ruth Brill is a vibrant bundle of energy, which is just as well – when we met, she was simultaneously touring as a dancer with Birmingham Royal Ballet, overseeing the company’s new production of Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, which she choreographed, and regularly commuting to London to put the budding dancers of London Children’s Ballet through their paces in her new version of the much-loved classic Ballet Shoes.

Ruth Brill rehearsing with London Children’s Ballet, photo Tina Francis

Oh, and there was also the ‘small matter’ of planning her forthcoming July wedding.

Not to mention making the necessary arrangements for life as a full-time choreographer: her very last performance as a dancer with BRB will be when the company visits London at the end of June.

And yet, she seemed unfazed; rather, she clearly relishes the pressure. When I pointed out that other brides-to-be would be falling apart with nerves at this point, she just laughed:

“We’re being very very efficient. Between [lawyer fiancé] Simon and I, we have evenings when we just try and blitz a few things. I mean I’m naturally quite a planner in life, and we both have the perspective that it’s going to be an exciting, wonderful time with everyone there, but it’s one day.”

Nevertheless, Ruth acknowledges that there’s only so much she can do; and this is why, at the early age of 30, she’s decided to stop dancing altogether.

“It’s been such an exciting year, and I’ve had so many exciting opportunities that I’ve grabbed with both hands, so it’s been a very very busy schedule, I haven’t had days off at all, kind of juggling everything, so I think something has to give.

“And there’s no doubt in my mind, it feels like the right moment. I’m really content with what I’ve done as a dancer, I’m still loving the stage and I always will, but being part of a touring company is hard, and I think I have more to give on the other side of things now.”

Ruth Brill is already an experienced choreographer, having created works for BRB – Rhapsody in Blue (2014), Matryoska (2015) and Arcadia (2017), the latter her first main stage commission.

Outside her home company, she has created a wide range of work including flash mobs for Birmingham Weekender Festival and the Rugby World Cup.

Ruth Brill – The Early Days

“I’ve always really enjoyed choreography, from the very beginning at my local Judith Wilson School of Dance in Penshurst village hall. There we would do a full show and then the following year we’d do a choreographic competition.

Ruth Brill (c) Richard Battye

“So, every other year I was making work, I’d spend time at my friends’ houses choreographing things; I continued at Tring [Park School for the Performing Arts], I won a choreographic cup there (…)

“The interest was always there, but when I joined English National Ballet, my focus was on dance: I wanted to prove myself as a dancer in other people’s choreographies.

I was always doing the extra things, but I wanted to dance. I promised myself, next year I’m going to choreograph a piece, but then the following year that I’d made that promise to myself [2012] I moved to BRB and just had to take part in the first choreographic workshop there.”

 

As a full-time choreographer, Ruth Brill will be catapulted right into the current debate on the perceived scarcity of women choreographers. So, naturally, I wanted to know where she stood on this debate.

“Personally, I have never felt discriminated against, and thankfully not pro-discriminated either, because I’ve got my opportunities not because I am a woman but because of the work.

“I think I’ve been lucky enough to have brilliant opportunities at BRB to create and develop; and actually Peter and the Wolf is in a bill of three female choreographers, [Un]leashed (…) so I think the climate is really shifting.

“I think it’s a really good time to be a female choreographer, because I think we’re pushing forwards and it’s being talked about, which is brilliant, because then the balance will be redressed.

“I mean, you can see that the majority of those leaders and creative people at the moment are men, but then I think back to those people in the past, a lot of those pioneers were women, so I think the tides are changing and I am more than happy to fly that flag and inspire other people.”

On this point, she notes that although it was the outgoing BRB Artistic Director, David Bintley’s idea to turn Peter into a girl in Peter and the Wolf, she was happy with to go along with it:

‘We shifted [the setting] into a present day urban setting: it’s kind of a recreational ground, basketball court, with a scaffolding tower at the back, therefore all the characters are modern day, personified characters.

“I sat down with David and discussed which dancers in the company could play Peter, and actually the dancers’ names I could live with, four out of five of them were girls.

‘So, it felt right to have Peter as a girl (…) it is important that we do put females at the centre of things at the moment.”

Laura Day as Peter in BRB’s Peter and the Wolf, photo Andy Ross

Ruth Brill – The Future

Ruth Brill has plenty of choreographic work in the pipeline already; some things she won’t be drawn on yet, but many others have already been firmed up:

“I’m going to be hopefully doing more for London Children’s Ballet, I’m being interim Artistic Director of National Youth Ballet between July and September and choreographing a new work for them, which will be a very high energy pure dance piece, because I’ve been doing lots of narrative recently (…)

“Then I’m doing the English Ballet Theatre choreographic lab, so I’m doing a couple of hours’ worth of creation and exploration at the end of the summer, and then we’ll see if that develops into something else.”

And not only that: Ruth Brill has her eyes on other forms of theatre.

“I love the ballet world and the ballet bubble – that’s home for me – but I’m also excited to branch out and get some different experience, whether that’s movement direction or working in musicals… I’m kind of an all-rounder!”

With her talent and seemingly inexhaustible energy we’re quite sure we’ll be hearing a lot more from Ruth Brill very soon…

by Teresa Guerreiro

Ruth Brill’s final performance as a dancer will be in Hobson’s Choice at Sadler’s Wells on Saturday, 29th June at 19:30

William Bracewell: First Year Report Card

William Bracewell, photo Dani Bower

Approaching the end of his first Royal Ballet season, William Bracewell helps Ballet Position write his First Year Report Card

Modesty is a profoundly endearing quality, and Royal Ballet soloist William Bracewell possesses it in spades.

A beautiful dancer, technically assured, supremely elegant with a fine classical line, he is widely predicted ‘to go far’; but as he approaches the end of his first year at Covent Garden, he still has the slightly dazed look of someone who can’t quite believe his luck.

Like a kid in a toy shop.

“On a professional level, the level of commitment that goes on every single day just blows me away, and it’s massively inspiring.”

William spoke to Ballet Position in a small meeting room somewhere in the vast warren that is the Royal Opera House, where he admits to still losing his way sometimes.

“I had a general expectation of what I might find in the building, but in all honesty what goes on has totally surpassed what I’d hoped for (…) I have felt so welcome! The other day I had somebody say, ‘I can’t believe you’ve been here for just a season; it feels like you’ve been here for so long!'” 

Looking much younger than his 27-years, William smiles easily, his clear brown eyes widening as he describes his enjoyment of his new life, his speech punctuated by pauses where he takes a deep breath and searches for the precise words to convey his meaning.

William Bracewell: The Road to London

William Bracewell joined the Royal Ballet as a soloist at the beginning of the 2017/18 season, after seven years with Birmingham Royal Ballet. His work at BRB had attracted critical attention, with one dance writer describing his portrayal of the young Louis XIV in David Bintley’s Sun King as,

‘…stepping high on his arched feet like Rudolf Nureyev, and turning slowly in classical arabesque as if to summon up that paragon of British classicism Anthony Dowell.’

Praise doesn’t come much fuller than that; and is backed up by distinctions such as Young British Dancer of the Year in 2007, Youth America Grand Prix in 2010, and Outstanding Male Performer (Classical) in the 2015 Critics Circle National Dance Awards.

William Bracewell as Dancing Gentleman in Manon (c) ROH 2018 photo Bill Cooper

He found a huge difference in the demands posed by the Royal Ballet when compared with what he was used to at BRB, particularly in the scheduling of the repertoire.

“In Birmingham you’d have a rehearsal period and then tour a production of a full-length [ballet] and a triple bill for maybe six weeks, or four weeks. So, you had the low times where you could rehearse and really push your body, and then you’d have the more stamina [demanding periods] when you’d be on tour performing.

“Here you’ll do an opening night for a triple bill, the next day you might be rehearsing a full- length ballet, the coming triple bill and creating a new work at the same time. There’s a lot of overlap, so I think mentally that was kind of different to get my head around.”

He’s had to get his head around a lot of work, as he has been in almost every production in the Royal Ballet’s current season ranging from that staple of the Christmas repertoire, The Nutcracker, to Christopher Wheeldon’s The Winter’s Tale, where he took on one of the principal roles, that of Polixenes, King of Bohemia.

William Bracewell as Polixenes in The Winter’s Tale (c) ROH 2018, photo Tristram Kenton

William relishes the variety. He loves acting roles – “it’s when I felt most free on stage, when I’ve been able to completely live someone else’s life” – but loves, too, the specific technical demands of different choreographers.

“It was amazing to do Hofesh [Shechter]’s Untouchables – that was incredible! And then working with Wayne [McGregor] for the first time was amazing! I absolutely loved it and Chris [Wheeldon] as well, at the same time, that was fantastic!”

He created roles in McGregor’s and Wheeldon’s new works this season, respectively Yugen and Corybantic Games.

William Bracewell with Matthew Ball in Corybantic Games (c) ROH 2018 photo Andrej Uspenski

When we spoke, William was preparing to dance in another Wayne McGregor work: his 2016 Obsidian Tear, part of the current season’s final Triple Bill. But whereas Christopher Wheeldon’s choreographic language is firmly rooted in the classical ballet vocabulary, McGregor’s is quite something else, with its hyper-extensions and jerky, contemporary inflections.

Did he find it easy to adapt to the specific demands of Wayne McGregor’s works?

“What I loved about working with Wayne was the amount of freedom he gave you. You train all the time to get things really perfect in a very classical sense and then for someone to just give you a phrase and say, ‘make of that what you will’ … it’s really liberating, to just completely launch yourself in something.”

Another reason for William Bracewell’s pleasure in his current job is that he gets to share the stage with people whom he’s idolised ever since he entered the Royal Ballet School as a shy 10-year-old from Swansea.

Dancers like Laura Morera and Federico Bonelli in The Nutcracker, “who I’ve looked up to since I was tiny.”

Laura Morera and Federico Bonelli in The Nutcracker (c) ROH 2013 photo Tristram Kenton

“I think Federico is one of the most stunning dancers I’ve ever ever seen! and Laura, who I’ve known since I was at school is just such a beautiful dancer, and such a wonderful woman…. being on stage with people that you’ve looked up to has brought a new life to productions that I’ve worked on before.”

William Bracewell: Beyond the Stage

Another reason why William Bracewell loves his London life is being able to explore all that the capital has to offer, even if he’s had to forego some of perks of smaller Birmingham.

“I had a house in Birmingham with a garden, which I suppose is possible here, but it’s difficult… but there’s just so much going on, so many more pieces of live theatre, and art. You know, you finish work at 6.30 and it’s not too late to go to the theatre or go to a gallery before it shuts.

“I love art, I love music and all different types of theatre!”

William Bracewell is a long way from his Swansea home, where we suspect he may be a bit of a local celebrity but is too modest to admit it, saying only he “supposes” his Mum’s friends know about his success…

And so we come to the point where we fill in the First Year Report Card. On a range of 1 – 5, he hits a 5* on Attendance, Proficiency, Work-Rate, Artistry and sheer Likability.

As for future prospects, why, Glowing, of course!

by Teresa Guerreiro

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William Bracewell is dancing in the Royal Ballet’s Obsidian Tear Triple Bill in rep until 11th May 2018.

He’ll dance the Principal Role of Prince Siegfried in Swan Lake on 19th, 31st May and 15th, 21st June.  Swan Lake is in rep 17th May – 21st June 2018

“I Haven’t Been Trivialised at the Dance Clinic”

Photo Trinity Laban Dance Science, Dancer: Liza Kovacs

PLEASE NOTE: THE LONDON CLINIC OFFERING THIS SERVICE HAS BEEN SUMMARILY CLOSED DOWN BY THE NHS AS OF JUNE 2019

Lucinda Brereton is a successful commercial dancer. She made a smooth transition from the National Youth Ballet to musical theatre and has been consistently in work for the past decade.

She’s currently acting, singing and dancing in the West End hit Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and her past work includes Mary Poppins and Chicago.

Lucinda Brereton in Chicago photo c/o Ms Brereton
Lucinda Brereton in Chicago photo c/o Ms Brereton

Like all dancers Lucinda has had injuries, but nothing she couldn’t dance through. However, about a year ago, things became more serious.

“I started getting pain in my lower back. It was not like the injuries I had before, where a week later you’re back to normal. This was something that interfered with my life, whether making coffee in the morning, hanging up my washing…”

In the past, she had spend a lot of money on private osteopaths and physiotherapists. She’d also had unfortunate experiences with GPs.

“You go to a regular GP and they say to you, ‘well, don’t dance,’ and I say, ‘well, I have to dance, don’t be a doctor, you know?’”

This time round, though, Lucinda was lucky. A friend recommended the Dance Clinic, which is accessible through the NHS.

The Dance Clinic

Now four years old, the Dance Clinic is part of the National Institute for Dance Medicine and Science, NIDMS for short.

That, in turn, is the result of a partnership between One Dance UK, Birmingham Royal Ballet’s Jerwood Centre for the Treatment and Prevention of Dance Injuries, Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, University of Birmingham and University of Wolverhampton.

Its aim is to provide affordable access to first class dance-specific healthcare and dance science support services across the UK.

Helen Laws is Head of Industry and Artist Support/NIDMS at One Dance UK and was deeply involved in the creation of the institute. She explains how dancers can access the specialist clinics.

Helen Laws photo balletposition.com
Helen Laws photo balletposition.com

“If you don’t have any private medical insurance, then you can access one of our free NHS clinics; to access those, you need to go to your GP and ask for a referral.

“You need to make the case that you’re a dancer, that this injury was either caused by dancing or affects your dancing and therefore you need to see a specialist to get you better as quickly and efficiently as possible.”

Not all GPs are cooperative, as Lucinda Brereton can testify; and many won’t have heard of the Dance Clinic nor indeed know much about specific dance injuries.

NIDMS is aware of the problem, says Helen Laws.

“Some GPs are immediately pleased to know that they can refer, because they may not know how to fix them; other GPs have their hands more tied by financial purse strings, and so sometimes they will want to refer you to the local hospital first.

“If that proves problematic we advise dancers to give us a call and we can talk them through the best way possible what to say to their GPs.”

At the moment there are three dance clinics nationwide, in Bath, Birmingham and London. The service is overseen by Doctor Roger Wolman, a specialist who’s been taking a close interest in dance injuries for many years.

The London Dance Clinic is housed in the Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital. In its bright, airy and welcoming surroundings, dance physiotherapist Caroline Jubb explained the procedure when injured dancers first attend.

“You’ll see a physio, or Dr. Wolman or one of the sports doctors. You’re assessed to see whether you need any blood tests, any imaging that can be CTs, it can be MRIs, it can be X-Rays.

“When we’ve gathered all that information together we’ll discuss with the patient and check that we’re all working towards the same goal.”

“Once we have the diagnosis we may refer you to physiotherapy, that can be here or with a local therapist.

“Often what I do is liaise with the physiotherapist, who can be local or a physiotherapist within the company, or within the university or the college, so that everybody knows what the dancer is doing, how much rest they need, what sort of dancing they need, and what sort of treatment they need.

“And that can change along the way, so in three-months’ time we can get back together and talk about the progression of that dancer’s rehab.”

Some injuries require more than physiotherapy. If so, says Caroline Jubb, the Dance Clinic is able to provide more complex treatments.

“We can refer you for injections and also for operations if we feel that you need a surgical review.

“We’ve got a number of consultants here who work alongside the dance clinic, who are used to working with dance people and sportspeople and they can do the operations for us here and then you have physiotherapy here after the operation, as well.”

Lucinda Brereton credits the Dance Clinic with having returned her to the stage 100 percent fit and healthy.

“They understand that it’s a professional career, it’s not a hobby – it’s your life! When you’re not at the peak of your fitness, it affects your whole life, your happiness, your money… it affects everything. I don’t feel for a second that I’ve been trivialised at the dance clinic.

“The practitioners talk to patients in a way that they can understand their body, their inner tools to help them get better.

“Every four months you see Dr. Wolman, he checks that everything is going well, you feel that you’re well looked after by the whole team.”

And all this on the NHS.

Of course, dancers with major companies have most of this specialised care in-house; but for independent dancers knowledge of the Dance Clinic and how to access it may mean the difference between a long, healthy career and premature retirement through catastrophic injury.

Although balleposition.com’s admittedly unscientific survey indicates that an alarming number of independent dancers are unaware of this service, the three NIDMS Dance Clinics are busy and there is often a waiting list.

So, it may make a lot of sense for freelance or small company dancers to invest in POP.

Performance Optimisation Package

POP, which is short for Performance Optimisation Package, is another useful resource created by NIDMS. Helen Laws:

“POP includes membership of One Dance UK (…) and two health-related benefits. One is the musculoskeletal and fitness screening and you get those in one of our Birmingham sites or Trinity Laban in London.

“That includes an assessment with a physio, who’ll give you a once over and tell you where your strengths and weaknesses might lie.

“You have the opportunity to talk about any niggles you might have before they become an injury and you get one-to-one feedback on the things you might want to do to help you strengthen and maintain the body free of injury.

Dance Science, Laban, 2007
Trinity Laban Dance Science, Dancer: Vince Virr photo Merlin Hendy

“The other aspect of screening will involve working with top scientists to assess various aspects of your fitness including strength, cardio-respiratory and flexibility.” 

Another important element of POP is a cash plan.

“It gives you cash back for up to £250-worth of treatments either with a physio, an osteopath, a chiropractor or an acupuncturist.

“It gives you a little money back if you see a chiropodist and it gives you up to £250-worth back if you need a diagnostic consultation, so if you need to see a consultant quickly and the waiting time is too long on the NHS, you can use it for that too.

“It also includes 24-hour GP helpline, 24-hour counselling helpline and some legal support, as well as dental.

“The main thing is that it’s affordable to dancers, the whole package costs £275 a year [student rate £230], so for that you’re getting up to £800-worth of direct value if you access all those things.”

Much remains to be studied about precisely what causes injury in dancers and the most effective forms of injury prevention; and that is the subject of an extensive nationwide study NIDMS is working on.

Meanwhile, though, it’s vital that independent dancers in Britain, who are entitled to NHS treatment, become aware of these provisions.

If you’ve read this far, do spread the word.

Full information at nidms.co.uk

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